• A community mourns Brooke Bennett
     | July 03,2008

    RANDOLPH - The news was too fresh and too raw.

    Word that state police had found Brooke Bennett's body hit Vermont just a couple of hours before approximately 300 people gathered around the gazebo in downtown Randolph to support her family.

    "I just want everybody to keep their children close and just love them," said Janet Bennett to the crowd while standing next to her husband James, Brooke's father.

    What was scheduled as a vigil of prayer for Brooke's safe return, planned on Tuesday, became a memorial for the girl who was to celebrate her 13th birthday in 10 days.

    People began gathering in Randolph Village more than an hour before the 8 p.m. vigil was set to begin. Many were looking to console members of the family still numb to news they were hoping not to get.

    "First of all, I want to say Brooke Marie, I love you very much," her mother, Cassandra Gagnon, said to the gathering, fighting back tears. "I just ask that justice be done to the person who took my baby away... I was really hoping for a better outcome."

    Thanking the crowd for their support over the last week, Gagnon said the hard part for her is just beginning.

    "I hope Brooke knows I'm with her and I will always be with her," she said, standing next to Brooke's older sister Savannah Andress. "I hope God takes care of her now and helps the rest of my family with the needs we need."

    The gathering took place almost exactly a week from the time Brooke's grandmother, Lucinda Milne called Vermont State Police to report the Braintree girl missing. Reverend Ronald Rilling opened the ceremony, following a trumpet rendition of "Jesus Loves Me," by thanking people for coming to show their support for the family.

    "This past week, as you may imagine, every minute seems like an hour, every hour a day, every day a week and the week an eternity," said Rilling.

    Upon the request of the family 1 Corinthians 13.4 was read, "love is patient, love is kind... love never fails."

    After the Biblical excerpt Mia Ukasick played guitar and sang a song with words seemingly spoken for Brooke. "Your presence makes the world a better place. You are pure integrity, you are just who you want to be... May your peaceful days be long, you are amazing grace," she sang.

    Gagnon spoke to the crowd after the song, fighting to keep her composure. Brooke's older sister, Andress, had been receiving hugs much of the night, shedding few tears. Upon addressing the crowd she too could not contain them any longer.

    "Brooke, I miss you already," she said, breaking down. "I know you can hear me and I'm glad you're in safe hands now."

    A crowd that had been watching, waiting and listening, had a hard time holding back their own emotions. James Bennett approached the microphone, holding his young son, with his wife Janet next to him.

    "I don't know what to say," he said after standing silently for a short time. "I know that Brooke knows that we love her and we'll always love her."

    Upon the request of a local pastor, the crowd joined hands and prayed in unity as the evening train rolled into town. A candle, lit by the family members on stage, began a flame that lit candles throughout the large crowd that reached well beyond the green in Randolph Village. Ukasick led the crowd in singing, "Amazing Grace," as dusk fell and the light of the candles glowed.

    The vigil ended after 45 minutes and members of the crowd stayed to lend further support to Brooke's family. A teen support circle is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at the Bethany Church, across from the Chandler Music Hall, for those in the community needing support.

    Contact Sarah Hinckley at sarah.hinckley@timesargus.com.

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